French medal awarded to heroic WW2 veteran
AHERO from Hale has been awarded the Legion d’Honneur, the highest French award for military merit, for his incredible exploits in the Second World War.
Captain Eric Goldrein was presented with the award on Tuesday, May 29 – his 97th birthday – by Philip Daniel, Honorary French Consul.
The French government announced in June 2014 that it would be awarding the Legion d’Honneur to all British veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War
Since then more than 5,000 medals have been sent out since then.
Captain Goldrein’s story is one of an astonishing escape, where he persuaded around 40 German soldiers to surrender to him, despite having a bullet in his shoulder and only his driver for company.
He landed in Normandy the day before D-Day, at the age of 23, and remembers his experiences vividly as he told the story of how he came to be given the highest honour in the French military.
He said: “Well, I conquered France!
“It was a long time ago, but it is something you remember.
“I remember they stuck a pole on the front of a submarine, and I had a canoe with a loop of rope around it which went over the pole.
“They went in as far as they could get to the shore, and then I paddled and unhooked myself and went to shore.
“I was standing with a throat mic, telling the soldiers as they came in where to go and what to do.
nce all his soldiers were ashore, Captain Goldrein asked if there was anything else he could do.
He was told to advance the guns forward to a nearby town, but became concerned after consulting his map.
He said: “On my fighting map there were a lot of swastikas where they were pointing. But they said that we’d taken that area an hour ago, so I got in the Jeep and went.
“But I was right and they were wrong.”
After deciding it would be easier to progress on foot, Captain Goldrein and his driver were soon surrounded by German soldiers with just one gun between them. He was shot in the right shoulder, and taken to the German Colonel where he began to engineer his escape.
He said: “I had done German at school, but I spoke to them in French so they didn’t know that I was understanding what they were saying.”
News was continuously filtering through of further German casualties, and Captain Goldrein was able to understand that his captors were panicking.
“They kept saying to the colonel, ‘what the hell are we going to do sir?’, and he was replying ‘well I’m buggered if I know.’
“So I said to them in German, ‘why don’t you surrender?’
“They didn’t kick it into touch, but they were saying ‘well how can we sur- render?’
“And I said ‘well you can surrender to me’.
“There I was with my arm in a sling made out of my tie, and they laughed.
“But eventually they discussed it and said they would.”
Captain Goldrein says that he had to stage manage the surrender – ‘so if a patrol came back or something they wouldn’t think that I’d done something terrible’.
Fortunately the first patrol they came across on their march back was the Royal Worcestershire Regiment, who took Captain Goldrein and his captives back to their colonel.
He said: “I went up to him, saluted left handed, and then I flaked out.
“I woke up in the hospital, I remember this very well, because I heard female voices.
“I hadn’t heard any female voices in months, I thought I was dead and this must be heaven.
“They took the bullet out and underneath I had a little bit saying ‘ taken out of the right shoulder of Captain Goldrein, Royal Artillery,’ and the date.
“You will have guessed that I wasn’t actually killed so that’s been a great pleasure, not to be dead.”
Captain Goldrein’s parents back in Liverpool would receive a telegram from the war office that their son was badly wounded.
Meanwhile at the same time he write a letter saying he had ‘ a bit of a scratch’.
He said the prospect of not returning from war was one that he and his men had accepted.
He said: “We weren’t miserable, but we knew what we were going to face.
“Nobody in my lot ever said ‘after the war we’re going to do this, that or the other, none of us really expected to come back.
“I’d been to the First World War graves in Flanders, and while they said this war was going to be different we thought that’s what they would say.
“We’d studied the air photos, we knew what we were going to meet, and it seemed impossible.
“We never expected to survive, but I’m here, and I’m old, and I never expected to be old.
“I’m the oldest chap I know!” ●
Eric Goldrein, 97, with his Legion d’Honneur medal